Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United

At the end of todays pulsating 3-3 draw between Chelsea and Manchester United, Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas was critical of referee Howard Webb after his side squandered a 3 goal lead…

The first one is an obvious penalty, nothing to say, but the second one is very, very dubious.

To go from 3-1 to 3-2 is immense and 3-3 is almost normal service for United. They have great desire and ambition. They never give up and manage to get the result, not the completely positive one they wanted, but a draw from 3-0 is important.

The way it happened is a big disappointment. We expect top referees in the top games and at the moment it is not happening for us

You have to try and hold on to a lead, but it was cut short by two penalties, said André Villas-Boas

Did Howard Webb’s decisions really determine the outcome of the game, or could (as André Villas-Boas puts it) there be more reasons for Chelsea’s lead being cut.

The Teams, Shapes, Systems;

Sir Alex lined up Manchester United in a very fluid 4-4-2 Formation with De Gea backing up Rafael-Evans-Ferdinand-Evra across the backline, Valencia-Carrick-Giggs-Young as a “loose” midfield unit, with Rooney and Wellbeck leading the line.

Man Utd Starting XI; "loose 4-4-2"

The most prominent actions during the early stages was the interplay/movement/rotation between Rooney-Wellbeck-Young, who were causing problems for the Chelsea backline. The timing and understanding between these 3 players was very good and on numerous occasions were able to link up and carve out opportunities in the final 1/3. In the early exchanges Ashley Young drifting in from the left flank allowed Evra to get forward and join the attack, and he was one of the reason’s AVB replaced Daniel Sturridge in the second period after he gave a away a penalty with a clumsy trip on the Frenchman. With Valencia providing an outlet on the right hand side of midfield both Giggs and Carrick (who was the deeper of the two) balanced off the midfield and screened the movements of Mata and Malouda.

In possession Man. United were more like a 4-2-4 and with them dominating possession early on were able to control the game and deny Chelsea the chance to play out from the back/through the thirds and get into any type of flow – this often led to many mis placed passes and poor decisions from players, which in turn made the game very scrappy and tense.

André Villas-Boas lined up his Chelsea side in a 4-2-3-1 ‘ish’ formation. His main concern was who to replace at left back for the suspended Ashley Cole and injured John Terry. Bosingwa took the place of Cole, and Gary Cahill made his Premier League debut alongside David Luiz with Ivanovic slotting in a right back. Michael Essien and Raul Meireles played in front of the Chelsea backline as a screen, with Malouda in advance. Sturridge-Torres-Mata provided the attacking line with the Spaniard making his usual drifts in field and Sturridge providing the with on the right hand side.

Chelsea Starting XI; 4-2-3-1 'ish'

During the entire first half Chelsea struggled to get a foot hold in the game and despite trying to play out from the back were unable to get any quality possession and time on the ball. The movement of United’s front men were causing the pairing of Cahill-Luiz & Essien-Miereles problems and often the latter two were being pulled out of position allowing Rooney-Wellbeck to inter link well with Young and create good opportunities.

Going forward most of Chelsea’s good play was through Mata and Sturridge who when in 1v1 situations with Evra was causing him problems (Chelsea 1-0). Torres had to adapt his game quickly as United opted to sit a deep back line and deny spaces in behind them – the Spaniard often dropped deep and moved into flank areas (cross for Mata goal), linked up well (86% pass accuracy – whoscored.com) and occupied Ferdinand-Evans. Until the own goal from Johnny Evans after good play from Sturridge the home side didn’t look likely to penetrate Man United and on fleeting occasions tested De Gea from set pieces and long range efforts…still the home side went into the break 1-0 up.

AVB’s “Second Half” ABC’s…

The game blew wide open within 5 crazy minutes…first on 46mins Mata lashed home a sensational volley at the far post after a wonderful cross from fellow Spaniard Fernando Torres. Then on 50mins Chelsea were awarded a freekick and Juan Mata delivered a teasing in swinging ball that David Luiz headed into the near post via a deflection off Rio Ferdinand. As expected the next 8mins Manchester United were rattled and Chelsea began to dominated proceedings and get some quality possession…

…So where did it all go wrong?

Obviously the penalty awarded to Man Utd after Sturridge tripped Patrice Evra on 58mins sparked the Manchester revival, but in hindsight I believe André Villas-Boas got his tactics and changes wrong. At 3-0 and 3-1 up Chelsea continued to attack United which played straight into the hands of the Red Devils, especially on transition. From the outset of the game United’s frontline with Rooney in particular were causing all sorts of problems and with Giggs joining in more after Chelsea’s third, the scales especially in the middle 1/3 tipped into United’s favor.

The substitution of Oriol Romeu for Daniel Sturridge on 71mins (at 3-2) was for me 12mins too late and should’ve happened once Chelsea had their 3-goal advantage in tact. Despite this advantage Chelsea continued to bomb forward and even Meireles began to join the attack – the ineffective Malouda would have been a better switch for Romeu and Chelsea could’ve switched to a more traditional 4-3-3 and give them much more solidarity in central midfield areas and flood the area/spaces Rooney-Young-Wellbeck were finding almost with ease.

The appreciation of AVB’s playing philosophy and his devotion to instill it at Chelsea this season has to be admired, but it is clear to me he does not yet have the appropriate players to fulfill those wishes for the during of a game. Some poor performances and inconsistent run of form and results only adds to the doubts. Early on in the season there was much talk about Chelsea’s lack of pace at the back and playing the high defensive line (to allow them to press higher up), and although AVB does not admit it there was a clear change of this philosophy in their 3-0 away win at Newcastle United on December 3rd and the following 3-0 home win against Valencia in the Champions league 3 days later.

With AVB attempting to play the possession based, attacking transition football he had much success with at Porto he is still missing a few keys pieces to the puzzle…and the big question is if Chelsea do not get into the top 4, are eliminated from the Champions League and fail to qualify for that competition next season will André Villas-Boas still be around to find those crucial pieces?

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